It’s December 1, 2012, and many around the world are counting down to the purported Mayan Apocalypse, the end of the indigenous group’s Long Count calendar.
Never mind that revelations during the past year alone have put ancient Mayans firmly in touch with the future, most notably with the May 2012 discovery of a scribe’s wall covered with murals plotting Venus’s orbit 7,000 years out.
NASA has been doing its best to debunk apocalypse myths all year, and now it has taken it a step further: The space agency is now warning of a dark side to apocalyptic rumors, cautioning that while those who don’t believe in the rumors may consider it a joke, there are some who are mentally vulnerable, “frightened children and suicidal teens who truly fear the world may come to an end,” LiveScience.com reported on November 28 after an online NASA session over Google+ designed to quell doomsday fears.
Anyone worried can go to NASA’s 24-hour apocalypse-debunking web page. The 21st of December will bring a regular, garden-variety winter solstice, NASA said.
"There is no true issue here," said NASA astrobiologist David Morrison, of the agency’s Ames Research Center, during the NASA Google+ Hangout session. "This is just a manufactured fantasy."
What does end on the 21st is the Mayan calendar cycle the 13th b’ak’tun. But for the Mayans it would be no more significant than flipping from December to January is for us. Although Maya scholars agree that the ancient Maya would not have seen this day as apocalyptic, Morrison said at the session that correspondence is streaming in from people, especially youth, who are worried about the end of the world. Some can’t eat or sleep, while others are suicidal, he said.
"While this is a joke to some people and a mystery to others, there is a core of people who are truly concerned," Morrison said. One needn't look any further than last weekend, when France banned access to Pic de Bugarach, a mountain believed to be a Mayan doomsday refuge, because of the number of people trying to camp out there.
A final irony comes from the fact that the Mayans did not predict doom and gloom, two professors at Southern Methodist University (SMU) said in a recent lecture. That was more the Aztecs' purview, said professors Michael Callaghan and Brigitte Kovacevich in a talk at the Dallas university. The SMU newspaper Pegasus News noted that the Aztecs "made apocalyptic and fatalistic predictions for the future" and that "The idea of large-scale natural disasters causing the end of the world comes entirely from Aztec tradition."
Moreover, the Mayans themselves changed the calendar at one point, the professors said, making the exact day and year of this non-event difficult to pinpoint. Thus, as Kovacevich pointed out, according to Pegasus News, “For you Doomsday preppers, if the 21st rolls around and the world hasn’t ended, don’t worry because it could still happen."
However, things like rogue planets are not only unlikely but also pale in comparison to real threats, such as the slow bake of climate change, with its accelerating ice-sheet melt and rising oceans, NASA scientists said.